At its most basic, AI is software that mimics and generates human behaviours – planning, generating ideas, understanding speech and visuals. Its ability to scale human intellect will have a profound impact.
Newly obsessed farmer Sulabh Soral is the chief AI officer at Deloitte Consulting. He’s been a data scientist for 20 years, watching technology evolve from the work he did in the early 00s to the modelling and algorithms we use today.
In the last couple of years, he’s evolved his scientist status, pitching a vertical farm in his living room. He’s now a carpenter, plumber and is becoming an expert in lighting, airflow and sensors. “The chard and lettuce are doing brilliantly,” he smiles. “Cucumbers were a miserable failure.” Either way, he went all in – as he does our AI whizz.
It’s software with cognitive behaviours.
At its most basic, AI is software that mimics and generates human behaviours – think planning, generating ideas, using location awareness, understanding speech and visuals.
With normal software, we program rules and formulas or use conditional logic to automate the software. AI doesn’t need human-attributed rules. It generates them itself.
To understand this significance, we should look back to the Industrial Revolution: humans created machines that mimicked human muscles and replicated the work of humans’ hands and legs. Machines scaled hard human labour. It transformed the world. Likewise, AI will scale our cognitive abilities, enhancing healthcare, transport, education, customer-centric experiences – it will have a profound impact on human efforts.
AI’s potential as a force for good? Profound.
We can use AI to help us in business, but I’m excited by the big societal opportunities. Whether that’s fairer distribution of public services, or help with solving complex problems in health - treating cancer, finding vaccines – or climate – reaching net zero, scaling biodiversity.
Take education as just one example. There is great disparity in education, with many bright people unable to physically access it and learn to use their talents effectively. We can scale good teachers with digital learning, by recording and sharing lessons, but the teacher’s understanding of the student and emotional support is missing. Add AI to recreate this in children’s learning, and we’re getting much closer to the physical school experience. The more people we upskill, the greater our shared global knowledge.
AI also gives me hope for our biggest challenge: reaching net zero. The transition will mean optimising everything we do, every process, every production. We’ll need AI to help us reconfigure every bit of the world sustainably.
By empowering customers, it can power public good.
AI can help business and help the public good when it's laser focused on what customers need. Ethical AI can approve customers’ timely loans or financial aid equitably – with a legal, ethical and moral compass. It can produce relevant services for customers when they need them – a small business loan at the right time means that business survives and provides local employment.
Maybe less profound, but similarly efficient: the fashion industry. Already, it has evolved from bricks-and-mortar stores with fitting rooms to delivered clothing to try at home, keep or return. There is now AI for customers to try digital clothes on their physically accurate avatar. It’s simple, but it elevates the customer experience, saves time and fundamentally changes the nature of a product.
But we, the people, need to agree how we use it.
There two ways AI can go bad: when it only benefits the people who own the intellectual property or, a little dramatically, it becomes an existential threat for the human race. We need the global community to decide, together, how we regulate, fund, invest in and research AI because the success of AI depends totally on humans.
We need three AI components to collaborate to enhance human experience and to avoid anyone using AI detrimentally:
- Create trustworthy AI
- Regulate the use of AI and AI products
- Reach a global consensus of when we use AI and when we don’t
Ethical AI must be fair, consistent, interpretable, transparent and resilient. Companies building AI need robust governance, clear policies on data and a strong moral and ethical compass far greater than just the regulator’s rules. Whatever companies do – collect data, use data, build algorithms, create products, advertise – it all needs a transparent framework.
But even when a company produces AI for the best benefit, what stops someone weaponising that technology? Of course, the organisation must have strong safety measures, but how do we govern producers to make safe, legal AI? How do we regulate AI users? We need to clarify what AI regulators will support, where they invest and where they won’t.
The global community must agree how and when we use AI. Should we ban AI research into certain areas or ban AI in certain weapons? The danger is a little research leads to one thing and then another and before we know it, it’s out of our hands, either with a bad actor, or, worse, in its own hands. Should we ban AI research in certain areas? With a clear global consensus and rigorous regulations, we can sidestep the worst-case scenario.
Your entry point into AI explained.
Better is the best-case scenario: AI expanding human capability, equitably. It’s already here to some extent. Our phones are already an extension of our being – attached to us – and they connect us with people and knowledge across the planet. We simply need to make integrated AI work for us. Evidence shows that as humans come up with new technologies, we are able to manage higher-order skills, so we advance by advancing AI.
As a business, you can get into AI by starting small. Identify places where an automatic process uses technology but still relies on humans – those boring menial parts of roles in attention drifts and errors happen. Then start to explore innovation in customer journey, products and services. Find ways to use AI to automate process, reduce costs and become more efficient - and it’s profoundly empowering.